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Start with Why

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Communicating change effectively is a skill all leaders need. How we frame communication around change to our teams is crucial because if people don’t understand why the change is needed, they’re less likely to embrace the change. For our organizations to reach our goals, stay productive, and do so with excellence, we need everyone working together. So how do we present change in a way people will embrace? Starting with why the change is needed is an effective approach.

When people understand why a change is necessary, they are less likely to resist it. Unity is important if we want to reach our goals as an organization. If some team members aren’t onboard with the changes, it will ultimately impact progress and productivity overall. Often, when communicating change, leaders start with what the change is and then explain how to do it. Though there’s nothing wrong with diving into the details of the what or the how , leaders can communicate change in a way that makes team members willing—even excited to be involved—by starting with why the change is taking place (Studer & Pilcher, 2015).


Consider your listeners. Put yourself in their shoes and consider what you would want and need to hear. Think about key words you’ll use. Intentionality around the why is very important, explains Studer Education coach, Dr. JoAnn Sternke, in a podcast on intentional communication. “It’s not just about approaching it with intentionality but with focused intentionality around this simple thing: What’s the outcome of the message I desire? What do I want people to feel and know?”   

With this train of thought, you’ll be on the right track to crafting a message with empathy. “Invest in the front end with planning your words, and it will pay off with less triage than when you have a poorly constructed message,” says Sternke. 


Pause and get clear on the why.

Take a moment to get clear about your why. If you can’t think of a good why, maybe it’s not a good change. Start by defining why the change is needed. What’s the problem or obstacle your organization faces? Why does this change need to happen? 

Draft using the Why, What, How protocol.

Structure is important. Draft the message about the change you want to communicate starting with the why. Then, go over the what, and finally, explain the howCommunicating in this sequence is effective because when team members understand the why, they’re more likely to comply. This also means less time can be spent on the what and the how (Maximize Performance, pg. 62).  

Delivery Matters 

Read the message aloud and practice delivering it. If it’s a critical message, get a second set of eyes on it. Ask for a review. As you prepare, just remember to be yourself. “Authenticity is vital,” Quint Studer says about leaders in a recent podcast on bold action. Don’t worry about whether you’re a great communicator and don’t try to be overly polished if that’s not you. Just be authentic and clear about the why.

Cast Vision for Change

Help your team members envision a brighter future, with the change in action. While being transparent, consider what positive outcome we can all focus on as a result of the change.

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